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Wyoming Farmers Grapple With High Fertilizer, Other Costs

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Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming farmers and ranchers are being hit by continually rising fertilizer costs and those higher expenses will likely find their way to consumers.

“We’re seeing [fertilizer] prices that are close to double what they were last year,” Wyoming Ag Business Association lobbyist Keith Kennedy told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “I’ve been talking with several retailers and there have been a lot of people doing more soil sampling than they have done in the past. When I talk with farmers, there are several ways that people plan how much fertilizer to use.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, prices for various types of fertilizer have increased by as much as 230% in the past year.

Nationally, increases in fertilizer costs are being blamed on shortages caused by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. However, Wyoming gets much of its fertilizer from Canada, and there have been difficulties shipping it across the border over the last two years because of COVID restrictions.

Kennedy said that while the rising fertilizer prices are nothing new, increases since the year began have been signifcant.

He added that while he thinks prices will come down some in the next 18 months, he does not expect much of a decline to happen during that time.

Albin-based organic farmer Ron Rabou told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that while his farm does not use commercial fertilizer, the cost of the fertilizers they do use, such as poultry manure or compost, has definitely gone up in recent months.

He added that while the boost in fertilizer will contribute to increased prices for consumers, other factors are in play as well.

“I think that beyond just the price of the actual fertilizer, there are a lot of things being affected right now in the ag industry,” he said. “Fuel is affecting the price, the cost of transportation also is. Even though we don’t use commercial fertilizer, all of that stuff trickles down to everyone that’s involved with agriculture.”

Rabou has been seeing rising costs among the ag industry in the last several years, but he said prices have jumped significantly in the last three months.

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Department of Agriculture Warns Of Highly Contagious Bird Flu In Johnson County

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Photo Credit: Matt Idler

The discovery of a highly contagious bird disease among a flock of ducks in Johnson County has state officials warning people with poultry to keep their birds away from wild birds.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday that “highly pathogenic avian influenza,” more commonly known as “bird flu,” has been detected among a flock of ducks in Johnson County.

While the illness is not a serious threat to humans, domestic poultry flocks can be quickly infected, said state Veterinarian Dr. Hallie Hasel.

“It’s highly contagious to poultry,” she said. 

The disease can easily infect chickens, turkeys and other poultry and cause severe illness or sudden death, according to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The USDA is working with the Wyoming Livestock Board to remove the infected ducks from the area where they were found and to make sure the birds do not enter the food system.

While the illness does not pose an immediate public health concern, it can spread to those who have been in direct contact with infected birds, Hasel said.

“Wyoming Public Health will be in touch with those who have been in contact with the flock,” she said.

Residents with poultry flocks are being advised to keep the birds separate from wild birds by keeping the poultry in enclosed areas.

Hasel said the threat posed by the illness should decline as migratory patterns change.

“There is lots of migration now,” she said. “But it will decrease.”

The threat posed by bird flu fluctuates annually, she added.

“The risk changes from year to year,” she said. “We don’t have a complete explanation for that.”

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Ag Procession Pays Tribute To Powell Farmhand

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By CJ Baker, Powell Tribune

As the funeral procession for Rogelio “Roy” Salas, Sr., headed to Crown Hill Cemetery on Monday afternoon, it included numerous cars of friends and family. But they were also joined by a pair of beet trucks and a tractor — a striking tribute to the decades Salas worked in the Powell area’s fields.

He spent more than 40 years with Smith Farms, initially for the late Denny Smith and then for Shane Smith.

“All I can say is he was an incredible man,” said Shane Smith, adding, “In all those years, I never saw him with anything but a smile.”

His consistently positive attitude, easygoing nature and infectious laughter made everything lighter, Smith said.

“I can’t point out one time when I thought he was having a less-than-perfect day,” he said, adding that, “things were always going to be OK.”

This fall marked the first beet harvest in decades that didn’t involve Salas — and he was missed by many, Smith said, including the worker at the beet dump scalehouse.

Salas was always the first one to arrive each morning and “she said no matter what, no matter how bad the day was, when he [Salas] came down and walked in the scalehouse, he just brightened your day,” Smith recounted.

Salas, who died last week at the age of 68, never missed a day of work, his children said, regardless of the weather or time of day. Even in retirement, he continued to help out at Smith Farms, faithfully driving a beet truck every fall.

That same truck led Monday’s funeral procession, this time with Salas’ son, Rogelio Jr., at the wheel, and Salas’ wife, Isabel, riding shotgun. A second beet truck and John Deere tractor brought up the rear, representing Salas’ time in the fields as a farmhand.

Salas was a perfectionist when it came to irrigating, skilled at driving heavy machinery, patient in handling sheep and willing to teach others, Smith said.

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“In his own quiet way, there was a lot of perfection that he had,” Smith said.

Salas’ four children said their father’s passion for agriculture was a family affair.

“Our dad loved taking his whole family for rides in the beet truck, rides in the tractor, drives out to check sheep, and [to] set siphon tubes during irrigation season,” they said, adding that their father brought a big smile, contagious laugh and great attitude to his work.

Salas’ children added that he was always willing to help out anyone on any of the farms in the Powell area.

“If you needed help, he would be there,” they wrote.

Smith called it “amazing” as to how many people knew Salas, saying he’ll be sorely missed by many. Salas had been hospitalized last month and died on Oct. 20.

“We promised our dad that we would have a parade when he came home,” his children said, “though these weren’t the circumstances we hoped and prayed for, we wanted to fulfill that promise.”

As he drove his father’s beet truck through Powell and east to the cemetery Monday afternoon, Rogelio Jr. gave a series of double honks. Those sounds were also a tribute to Salas, who always honked his horn twice — once to tell his wife that he loved her and the second to say goodbye as he headed to work.

For Salas’ children, it was a fitting tribute.

“We had the best parade for the best dad in the world,” they said.

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Early Dig Brings On Beet Harvest

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Powell Tribune

With September, beet trucks will be on the roadways in Western Sugar’s Lovell Factory District.

The early harvest of area sugar beets starts Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Receiving stations will be open five days a week through September and the first couple of days in October.  The regular harvest is scheduled to begin on Oct. 6, depending on weather and forecasts, said Ric Rodriguez, Heart Mountain grower and Western Sugar Co. board member. 

“Yields are projected to be down somewhat from recent averages, but we have had good growth in September before,” and growers are hopeful that is the case this year, said Rodriguez.

Sugar content is expected to be about average for Lovell district growers, he added.

The processing campaign at the Lovell factory also begins Sept. 7 with early-delivered beets.

Receiving stations at Bridger, Montana, and at the factory in Lovell will be the first to open.  The Bridger beets will be brought to Lovell to offset some of the acreage loss in the Powell area, guaranteeing adequate tonnage for the Lovell factory.

West Powell receiving station will open Wednesday, Sept. 8, followed by Heart Mountain station on Sept. 14.  

Growers will deliver 10 to 15 percent of their crop in the early dig, depending on factory performance. All receiving stations will open for the regular harvest Oct. 6.

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Park County Junior Livestock Sale Shatters Previous Records, Bringing In $645,442

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By Tessa Baker, Powell Tribune

It’s hard to describe this year’s Park County Junior Livestock Sale with words — so just look at the numbers. In about four-and-a-half hours, the animals put up for sale on Saturday fetched an astounding total of $645,442.

That’s an increase of 41% — or just over $188,000 — from last year, which was itself a record-setting sale. The 2021 event also marked the first time in county history that the Junior Livestock Sale exceeded a half-million dollars, skyrocketing right by that benchmark.

“The sale was absolutely unbelievable,” said Joe Bridges, chairman of the sale committee. “I don’t know how you go about describing such a tremendous event and to give the accolades to the businesses and individuals that were willing to come and show their support for the kids.”

Across the board, average prices were up for all animals, with some reaching record highs.

A total of 248 youth with FFA and 4-H sold livestock on Saturday, which was 13 more animals than 2020, when the auction broke records at $457,430. There were 15 more steers, but those upticks alone weren’t responsible for this year’s increase in the grand total.

In a normal year, the increase in big-ticket animals like steers may have netted an additional $40,000 at most, Bridges said, “but nowhere close to a $200,000 increase.”

“The big story is really how dedicated everybody was to coming and supporting these kids and just being extremely generous,” he said.

Buyers were excited to get out and attend the sale in-person, Bridges said, as online bids dropped from 2020.

“Obviously, there were still bids and still buying that was done online, but it wasn’t as active as it was the year before,” he said. “I think that was just because everybody was excited to get out and go do something, you know, to get things back to normal.”

‘It was crazy 

to watch it take off’

Saturday’s sale started off strong, and that momentum carried through to the final bid. 

“You’re always nervous when they start off high that you’re gonna have a cliff at some point in time,” Bridges said. 

But that drop never came.

“The crazy thing was, even with them spending this much money, there were still buyers at the end going, ‘I still haven’t bought what I need yet,’” Bridges said. “Prices actually ramped throughout the sale instead of dipping off.”

For the first time, the highest-selling lamb was the very last lamb through the sale.

“It was crazy to watch it take off towards the end,” Bridges said.

The overall number of lambs and goats at the sale dropped from 2020 and pigs stayed about the same, while there were more steers and double the number of rabbits.

Even with the uptick in steers, the average price was up 5 cents per pound, which Bridges called “phenomenal.”

This year, 26 rabbits sold for an average of $758 apiece — up nearly 48% from last year’s average of $513.

In years past, one rabbit could jump to around $700 or higher, but as an outlier, Bridges said.

It’s rare for a rabbit to reach $1,000, “and we sold quite a few over $1,000,” he said.

“As prices escalated on some of these other animals, some of the buyers — just to utilize the money that they wanted to spend there — they started chasing the rabbits,” Bridges said.

Buyers often come with a certain amount they want to spend.

“They truly are trying to give it to the kids, and so at the end of the day, they want that budget spent,” Bridges said. “They’re there with one thing in mind and that’s to help the kids as much as they possibly can.”

Core group sets the tone

As the longtime chairman of the sale committee, Bridges said the Junior Livestock Sale is “a tremendous thing to be involved with,” commending the faithful buyers and dedicated volunteers.

A core group of buyers sets the tone for the sale, he said.

“They don’t want to be singled out and recognized, so I won’t name them, but they know who they are,” Bridges said. “… They really bring the sale along and help those kids out, and they do it year in and year out.”

If things get uncertain as to whether the sale is going to hold or move, “they will hold it there and move it forward,” he said.

With the increase in steers this year, the core buyers ensured kids got good prices.

Cody Regional Health

“… they bought a lot of steers, because they were trying to hold that price for those kids,” Bridges said.

In addition to the faithful businesses and individuals who show up every year, the 2021 auction also saw new buyers. Bridges thanked all the buyers who supported the sale, both in-person and online.

For the first time, add-ons could be submitted online. With an add-on, a supporter contributes a specific amount of money to a youth without purchasing the whole animal. 

Colby and Codi Gines — who own MM Auction Services — added that function, which Bridges called “a super neat thing.”

He said MM Auction Services did a nice job handling both the in-person auction and online bids. A TV monitor was added above the ring, so buyers could see the current bid and other details.

The work of closing the books on the 2021 sale will continue into October, before the committee starts working on the next one in December. Bridges said accolades go to sale committee secretary Jennifer Triplett and treasurer Andrea Mehling, as they do the bulk of that work.

Throughout the year, many tasks — from weigh-ins to helping out during the sale to printing materials — are completed by volunteers. As just one example, Bridges asked his nephew to get the TV set up on Friday night, and it was ready by Saturday.

“There’s a ton of different people out there that step up to the plate and make things happen,” Bridges said. “…There’s no way for us to ever keep track of how many man hours there truly are, but it doesn’t happen without the whole community.”

Livestock Sale Numbers

• Steers

Average: $3.89/pound (up from $3.84 last year)

Highest seller: Grant George at $5.50/pound

Buyer: Rimrock Tire

• Hogs

Average: $10.31/pound (up from $7.43 last year)

Highest seller: Oaklee Smith with $17/pound

Buyer: Yellowstone Sports Medicine

• Lambs

Average: $15.03/pound (up from $10.06 last year)

Highest seller: Veronica Kovach with $26/pound

Buyer: Valley Ranch

• Goats

Average: $18.06/pound (up from $14.16/last year)

Highest seller: Onyx Miller with $50/pound

Buyer: Heritage Health Center

• Rabbits

Average: $758 (up from $513 last year)

Highest seller: Barrett George at $1,500

Buyer: Big Horn Co-op

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Spraying For Grasshoppers Leads To Severe Reaction To Pesticide

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Republished with permission from The Powell Tribune

Grasshopper numbers had gotten to such levels in Jeri and Jack Ogborn’s rose garden last June he drew his weapon of choice from storage — dimethoate, an organophosphorus insecticide.

The grasshoppers later just about got their revenge.

Ogborn wound up having a weirdly out of body experience and his wife, Jeri, wondering whether she should call 911. The Torrington couple looks back on the events of June 2020 with some humor now. They didn’t then.

Ogborn doesn’t remember when he purchased the large container of dimethoate, a systemic insecticide.

“You don’t need very much of it,” said Ogborn, who celebrated his 85th birthday in January. “Every year I decided to spray because the grasshoppers were just devouring our rose garden and everything else. So it really worked on grasshoppers.”

So he sprayed last June.

“Incidentally, when I bought the spray I also bought a very nice mask that had breathing filters on each side,” he said. “It was quite nice. But it was really hot that day, so I never wore it.”

Ogborn sprayed the yard, keeping the wind to his back. Then, “I came in the garage when I finished. That’s when the funny stuff started. It was weird.”

He evidently decided to take his clothing off since they might have some of the spray on them. “That’s about the last thing I recall,” he said. “I came into the house and my wife asked, ‘Why are you naked?’”

He had no answer.

“I said I don’t remember. I don’t know why I’m naked, but I’m naked for a reason. I can’t tell you exactly what that is.”

Jeri remembers asking what he had been doing, and Jack answered he had been in the weeds. “I asked why, and he did not know,” she recalls.

“It was really weird,” she continued. “When he would try to say a word or name an object, it was not the right word and he knew it was not the right word, but he couldn’t say what he wanted to say.”

Jeri initially thought he had had a heat stroke and had him lie down on a couch.

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“It was like I was kind of in another body,” said Jack. “Not another place because I was familiar with the place, but it just didn’t seem like me. I was getting questions and my answers were ‘I don’t know, I just don’t know.’”

Dimethoate is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, the lungs and through the skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The pesticide degrades with a half-life of approximately two to four days, based on soil conditions.

If one suspects poisoning, read the label to find out what the recommended course of treatment should be, said Jeff Edwards, University of Wyoming Extension pesticide safety education program coordinator.

“If the person is unconscious, call 911 and tell them that there has been a suspected poisoning with a pesticide and supply the trade and chemical names of the product,” he said. “If the individual is transported to the hospital, the label and Safety Data Sheet should also go with them — give this information to the healthcare workers.”

Jack took a shower after his couch rest. “That helped a great deal,” said Jeri.

He recalls the absence of his ability to talk.

“I think it just wiped out part of your brain that is very important for communicating,” he said.

Several days would pass before he felt normal but a couple more weeks would pass until he could really feel good.

“It took a long time to get a total memory back, and it was scary,” he said.

Edwards recommends disposing of old pesticides. He suggests that pesticides one is unsure of be taken to toxic waste collection days. Park County Weed and Pest has tentatively scheduled hazardous waste collection days for Sept. 10 in Powell and Sept. 11 in Cody. Several organizations partner for the annual collection days in Park County.

There is a moral to the Ogborns’ story.

“Always read, understand and follow the entire label — including the bits on first aid and disposal of containers,” said Edwards.

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Stock Growers Exec: Initiative Criminalizing Animal Slaughter, Breeding Would Never Work In Wyoming

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On climate change and cattle

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A recently proposed initiative that would basically criminalize the slaughter and breeding of farm animals in Oregon would never gain any traction in Wyoming, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association executive vice president said this week.

Jim Magagna told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that an initiative proposed for the Oregon ballot in 2022 that would classify animal slaughter as aggravated abuse and redefine artificial insemination and castration as sexual assault likely won’t pass in that state, either.

“I’ve never heard of an initiative like this ever popping up in Wyoming, but the chances of it ever passing here are exactly zero,” he said.

However, he was concerned that an initiative like this would even be proposed.

“It makes me wonder if there’s any common sense left in Oregon,” he joked. “Colorado proposed something similar to this, although not nearly as extreme, but it was thrown out by the courts. If something like this were to pass, it would effectively be the end of the ranching industry in Oregon, which saddens me.”

According to Farm Progress, Initiative Petition 13 would remove farmer exemptions from existing laws barring animal cruelty and specifically target practices used for “(b)reeding domestic, livestock, and equine animals.” A group called End Animal Cruelty is sponsoring the initiative.

The proposed Abuse, Neglect, and Assault Exemption Modification and Improvement Act would delete all references to “good animal husbandry” from state statute and only allow an animal to be injured in cases of a human’s self-defense.

A veterinarian’s spaying and neutering of household pets would still be exempt from cruelty laws.

While Magagna understood that there have been horror stories concerning the slaughter of animals for meat, he said the agriculture industry has taken major steps in recent years toward raising and slaughtering animals in an ethical and humane way.

Magagna said that if the proposed initiative were to pass, Oregon’s cattle would be sold off and go to other states, Wyoming likely being one of them, that have strong livestock production industries.

There could be a slight uptick in economic impact for Wyoming should the initiative pass in Oregon, but Magagna said it would be a hit for the ranching industry overall.

“Things like this are a sign of the direction a segment of our population is going,” he said. “If some of those ideas garner a lot of strength in Oregon or California, it could lead to some policies at the federal level that could be detrimental to Wyoming.”

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Nonprofit Makes First Grant for Climate Wellness Through Soil Health

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By staff reports

Wyoming’s nonprofit Synergy for Ecological Solutions made their first grant to Carbon Asset Network’s landowner member, Hellyer Ranch in Lander on Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

This grant will enable the ranch to execute a customized plan for greater soil health developed by both Hellyer and Carbon Asset Network’s certified professional agronomist, Neal Fehringer.

The increase in soil health is a result in improving plant production, which causes an increase in photosynthesis. More photosynthesis removes additional carbon dioxide from the air and, in turn release more oxygen into the air and secures more carbon into the soil by increased root growth from more vegetative growth. This is the basis for ‘carbon sinks’ and ‘carbon sequestration,’ which is Nature’s method of cleaning our air.

“Sometimes it’s not understood that there’s a natural connection between improving our soil and reducing carbon in our air,” says John Robitaille, Director of Carbon Asset Network (CAN). “CAN works with the manager of the land to develop a customized science-based solution to increase soil health and meet their land goals. This is the new way forward.”

The manager of the land, called Land Stewards, enlists in the You360 program, which provides funding to develop the soil for one year. The Land Stewards can be ranchers, farmers, or managers of any open land, such as parks or golf courses. This is not connected to any government program and the funding comes from donations to the nonprofit, Synergy for Ecological Solutions.

“At Hellyer Ranch, we have taken some steps towards soil health, but with this grant, we can accomplish major goals,” says Jim Hellyer. “You’ll never find a better steward for our environment than someone who manages land.”

The nonprofit has developed a unique way to fundraise for climate wellness, using donated funds to clean our air, which empowers individuals and businesses to be advocates for the environment.

“There are many people who wake up each day, concerned about our climate. And, businesses are looking for ways to meet ESG goals. Yet, until now, the only solutions offered were to eat vegan, recycle, and perhaps protest fossil fuels. SYNERGY gives the opportunity to donate in order to improve soil health,” says Jeff Holder, Director of Synergy for Ecological Solutions. “We encourage a change of mindset. Rather than wishing for a carbon neutral future in the next few years or decades, let’s make a change right now, today. Finally, everyone can do something that has a direct impact on our climate.”

In the You360 program, donors can donate towards one acre of land for $30 a month/$360 a year. It’s a one-year commitment and the funds pay for agronomy/soil testing and development, with the lion’s share going directly to the Land Steward.

The funds are often used for additional equipment such as a no-till drill or for fencing and labor to help with mob grazing, a practice that has proven to sequester more carbon.

“We celebrate this new way to help ranchers improve their soil,” says Jim Magagna, Executive Vice-President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. “With funds from CAN, the rancher is able to adjust their operation with the result of healthier soil and healthier land.”

For more information visit, SynergyForEcologicalSolutions.org or CarbonAssetNetwork.com.

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More Shortages: Wyoming Horse Owners Struggle To Find Hay For Feed

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s one of the rules of the ranch. Fences need mending; cows need tending; horses need to be fed. 

But this year, feeding horses is a little more difficult.

Last year’s drought, combined with a lack of planning in some cases and the arrival of new horse owners from other states, means that grass hay is hard to come by. 

That’s what’s being seen by Alan Rosenbaum, who owns and operates Cody Feed in Park County.

“Well I think most people just, you know, may not have planned ahead, to have a buffer,” Rosenbaum said. “And so they just kind of ran out, you know, or they acquired more horses… or there’s any number of things that can happen. Because of the heat and drought last year, the quantity of crops weren’t as prevalent, but the demand was still the same, or even increased due to those other factors of new people or whatever.” 

Not all feed is in short supply, according to Brian Seifert, who has a small herd of horses just outside of Powell. He said he specifically needs grass hay for one of his animals, and it’s been hard to find.

“We have a pony,” Seifert said. “If he looks at anything even a little bit green, he starts to founder. So, right now I’ve got access to three pastures, but if he’s in there for two days straight, he starts getting ouchy, and we have to pull him off.”

Laminitis, or “founder,” as it is commonly called, can be caused by a horse’s inability to properly digest lush grass. It results in the destruction of the sensitive “laminae” that connect the horse’s hoof to the soft tissue of the foot, which keeps the coffin bone in place within the hoof.

If a horse “founders,” that means that the bone of the foot is out of place.

State Veterinarian Jim Logan said many farmers have switched over to growing alfalfa hay, a richer food than grass — and that is contributing to the grass hay shortage.

“It’s easy enough to find alfalfa hay,” Logan said. “but it’s difficult to find even that in the small bales (70 pounds). Some people find it in the big round bales or even the big square bales but not finding the small bales and the grass hay.”

He explained that grass hay isn’t as economical to grow as alfalfa, either.

“A lot of the farmers now don’t have the equipment for doing the grass,” he said, “and you’re not going to get as many cuttings of grass hay as you would alfalfa. So they’ve gone to raising the alfalfa, more so than the grass.”

For small operators like Seifert, finding the right food is important to keep his herd healthy — and that all-important grass hay has been elusive this year, which means that prices have gone sky-high.

“When I picked up three bales, I think I paid $13 each, which is insane,” Seifert said. “I didn’t have a problem paying it because it was what I needed, but that’s a kind of a supply and demand deal. And for me, I should have budgeted a little bit better last year and maybe bought a little bit more, so I’m not complaining about that, but I’d be willing to bet you anything, there are some people who are not happy when they call up a feed store.”

Seifert, who has worked as a farrier as well as a horse trainer, said feed costs can get high, depending on how many horses you have to feed.

“An average horse might go through 35 pounds of feed in a day,” he said. “So if you have a 70 pound bale, it’s going to last one horse two days. I’m really generalizing, because there are some that are going to eat far more than others.” 

Rosenbaum said not all hay products are in short supply, but a certified weed-free hay may require a bit of waiting.

“Ours are certified weed free,” he said, “and we’ve exhausted the inventory that we had reserved with our producer. We’re down to our last stack until we get cutting here. And the hay supply should rebound here in a couple of weeks, when people start cutting hay. There’s people over in Basin and Worland that have already cut hay.”

Until that time, Rosenbaum said horse owners may have to look at alternatives, such as hay pellets, which are much more expensive – or else they might have to look to distant markets.

“Each area is different,” he said. “Powell may have a little bit more hay on hand than we do over here (in Cody), or Basin might have a little more. So you may have to travel to go get it. You know, there’s hay usually out there somewhere.”

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Ex-BLM Head: Wyo Rancher Suing Biden Over Racial Discrimination Gets Help From Legal Ruling

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By Jen Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

A Wyoming rancher suing the federal government because of race-based exclusions in a coronavirus relief program may be helped by a recent Tennessee ruling that prioritizing relief based on race and sex is unconstitutional, according to a former director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

William Perry Pendley, a Wyoming attorney who served as acting director of the BLM from 2019 to 2020, said even though the lawsuit filed in Wyoming addresses agricultural loan forgiveness programs and the Tennessee case addressed COVID relief funds, the two cases share similar roots.

“This will help the Wyoming rancher,” Pendley told Cowboy State Daily. “Though the ruling of the (U.S.) Sixth Circuit (Court of Appeals) is not precedent that the Wyoming federal district court must follow, it is persuasive, especially given that it is a federal court of appeals, that the Wyoming court is likely to follow and cite as authority.”

Leisl Carpenter, a 29-year-old rancher in Laramie County, is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture over a loan forgiveness program under the American Rescue Plan Act pandemic relief funding that forbids her from applying because she is white. 

“It’s brazen discrimination,” said William Trachman, associate general counsel for the Mountain States Legal Foundation who filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in May.

The American Rescue plan, which was signed into law by President Biden in March, offers $4 billion in loan forgiveness for “socially disadvantaged” ranchers and farmers throughout the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is interpreting the phrase to mean the only people who can apply for aid must be “Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic, or Asian, or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.”

Such discrimination by the federal government is constitutionally forbidden, the lawsuit said.

“(The federal government’s) use of race discrimination as a tool to end ‘systemic racism’ is patently unconstitutional and should be enjoined by the court,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the loan forgiveness program does not necessarily target farmers or ranchers who suffered economically because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Under the relevant provisions, it forgives the loans of farmers or ranchers whose race matches the race of a group whose members have suffered discrimination, per the (USDA),” it said.

The lawsuit asks the court to find the program unconstitutional because of its limits on who can apply for loan forgiveness.

Trachman said he is being contacted by other farmers and ranchers who were prevented from applying for the loan forgiveness program.

Trachman said he is also encouraged by the ruling of the federal appeals court in Tennessee, which issued an injunction against the U.S. Small Business Administration to keep it from prioritizing COVID relief funds based on the restaurant owner’s race and sex.

The court’s decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Antonia Vitolo, owner of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman, Tennessee.

Vitolo applied to receive federal relief from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund that was created as part of the ARPA. He was told restaurant owners who were women or minorities would be prioritized to receive the federal funds.

The appeals court found such a prioritization system was unconstitutional and barred the Small Business Administration from applying it in the future.

Pendley, who is not involved in Carpenter’s lawsuit, said he hopes the ranchers and other people filing such lawsuits do not stop the legal action if the U.S. Department of Justice agrees not to enforce the rules in their cases.

“As (appeals court) Judge (Amul) Thapar pointed out, these rules have been on the books for decades and continue to be enforced,” he said. “That DOJ says it will not apply them in a particular case does not mean the constitutional injury goes away.”

The government has 60 days to respond to Carpenter’s Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief. 

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Wyoming Rancher Sues Biden Administration Claiming Racial Discrimination

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On climate change and cattle

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By The Center Square, Cowboy State Daily

A Wyoming rancher is suing the Biden administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture claiming race discrimination over a federal loan forgiveness program that bars her from participating because she is white.

Leisl Carpenter, a 29-year-old rancher from Laramie, says in the lawsuit that the “American Rescue Plan” loan forgiveness program is unconstitutional because it discriminates.

“Like a lot of farmers and ranchers, our client has struggled to keep her family ranch afloat through all the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, only to learn that she is ineligible to even apply for Biden’s loan forgiveness program solely due to her race,” Mountain States Legal Foundation Associate General Counsel William E. Trachman said Tuesday. 

“Instead of being rescued by Biden’s plan, she’s been excluded and discriminated against for no other reason than the color of her skin,” he said.

MSLF and the Southeastern Legal Foundation filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court, District of Wyoming on Carpenter’s behalf.

In March 2021, the Biden administration signed At question is the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed by Biden in March, which provides $4 billion to forgive loans for “socially disadvantaged” ranchers and farmers. White ranchers are excluded, the lawsuit contends, which is in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection under the Fifth Amendment.

“The blatant discrimination in the American Rescue Plan Act, Section 1005, is ridiculous,” Carpenter said. “The government needs to bring an end to this horrendous practice of racial discrimination immediately and start treating Americans as individuals based on character and individual qualities, not based on the color of their skin.”

Carpenter owns the 2,400-acre Flying Heart Ranch in Wyoming’s Big Laramie Valley, which she inherited when she was younger, according to a news release. She took out an FSA loan when she was younger to save the family ranch, but the COVID-19 pandemic added to her financial problems.

 When she heard of the pandemic-related loan forgiveness program, she thought it could be a lifeline, but then she learned she wasn’t eligible, according to the news release.

“Making skin color the basis of a government benefit is not only unconstitutional: it is also morally wrong,” Trachman said. “One simply cannot promote racial justice by perpetuating racial injustice. The way to end discrimination is to stop discriminating.”

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Gordon Lets Ag-Related COVID Bill Become Law Without Signature

in News/Mark Gordon/Coronavirus/Legislature
USDA helps veterans turn from swords to plowshares

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is warning Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers to think carefully before taking advantage of a new law that would let them collect coronavirus relief funds.

Gordon, in a letter to state Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, explained why he allowed Senate File 50 to become law with out his signature, saying he is worried agriculture producers might be forced to repay the grants they receive under the law.

“I understand that some producers might want to get a chance at the federal one-armed bandit, and therefore will let the bill pass into law without my signature,” he wrote. “In my view, caveat emptor should be the watchword of the program: if producers are willing to take advantage of this program, they should be prepared to possibly have to pay back the grants — a decision that could cripple additional Wyoming industries.”

The bill would allow ranchers and farmers to seek federal coronavirus relief grants given to the state if they claim a loss incurred due to COVID-19.However, Gordon said he is not sure the program will meet federal requirements for the money to be used to compensate businesses for losses caused by COVID-19 or restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the illness.“

Rather than reimburse individuals or businesses for impacts related to an emergency, the program created in this legislation seems to seek some way to give money to agricultural producers simply because they are producers,” he wrote. “I remain concerned about what an unfriendly administration that appears to be preparing for war could do to Wyoming’s key industries, including agriculture.”

Gordon urged legislators to clarify and strengthen the program in the future and to investigate whether the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to offer a coronavirus relief program.

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Washington Man To Pay Back More Than 200 Million Over Raising Pretend Cows For Food Company

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By Mary Rose Corkery

A Washington man agreed to pay back more than $244 million that he was paid to raise nonexistent cows for two companies.

Cody Allen Easterday, 49, pleaded guilty to misleading the companies, including Tyson Foods Inc., in agreements to purchase and feed thousands of cows, the press release said.

Under an agreement, the companies would pay Easterday’s organization the funds to purchase and raise the cattle, the agreements said, according to the press release. Easterday’s Ranches Inc. would return the advanced costs with attached interest and additional payments, but could keep the difference between the cow sales and repayment to the companies, the press release said.

Easterday provided fake invoices to the companies for reimbursement from 2016 through November 2020, the press release said. The companies gave Easterday Ranches Inc. more than $244 million during the scam.

The defendant used the money to pay off debts for his ranch and for personal expenses, the press release said.

Along with agreeing to pay back the money as restitution, Easterday was charged for a count of wire fraud, and is scheduled for sentencing in August. Easterday faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail.

A Miami couple pleaded guilty in early March for making false claims that they had employees on farms, which weren’t real and received over $1 million in coronavirus relief from the fraud, a March 8 Justice Department press release said. A Florida man pleaded guilty Feb. 10 over using a portion of fraudulently accessed Paycheck Payment Protection (PPP) money towards buying a Lamborghini, a Feb. 10 Justice Department press release said.

The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment

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Cheney Introduces Bill to Allow State-Inspected Meat to Be Sold Across State Lines

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney introduced a bill this week that would allow state-inspected meat to be sold across state lines.

The bill known as the Expanding Markets for State-Inspected Meat Processors Act of 2021 is similar to legislation Cheney introduced in a previous congressional session.

“The economic ramifications of COVID-19 resulted in processing interruptions and decreases in the amount of meat getting to market, leading to shortages across the country,” Cheney said following introduction of the bill. “As we recover from the challenges posed by the pandemic, we must be doing everything possible to expand opportunities and open markets that will allow livestock producers to increase their economic activity.”

The legislation would allow meat products inspected by state meat and poultry inspection programs to be sold across state lines.

The legislation was endorsed by Gov. Mark Gordon, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, the Wyoming Farm Bureau and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.

“Rep. Cheney’s bill would finally acknowledge equity of Wyoming’s state inspection program and federal inspection requirements,” Gordon said. “Passage of this act would allow our hardworking state inspectors and the Department of Agriculture to better serve our producers and help Wyoming export high-quality products to additional markets. I fully support this concept and appreciate Rep/ Cheney’s efforts.”

Beef producers in Wyoming have long complained about the fact that four companies control 80% of the meat packing industry and have alleged that the companies work together to keep prices for beef producers artificially low.

The weaknesses of such concentration became apparent when several large meat processing plants were forced to close by the coronavirus, reducing the nation’s supply of meat and driving costs for producers even further down.

Gordon said last month he was working with legislators to expand the state’s meat processing capacity to address concentration of the industry.

“These producers play an essential role in powering our state’s economy and providing high-quality food to consumers across the country,” Cheney said. “Allowing state-inspected meats to be sold across state lines empowers producers to access these new markets while supplying the increasing demand. This legislation will also increase competition and offer more meat choices for American families.”

Current law prevents state-inspected meat from being sold out-of-state. Presently, there are 27 states, including Wyoming, with inspection programs certified by the Food Safety Inspection Service as meeting or exceeding federal inspection standards.

However, products processed at these FSIS-approved state MPI inspected facilities are not currently allowed to be sold across state lines. 

Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto said the legislation would allow his staff to better serve the agricultural industry of Wyoming and would bring more opportunities to the state’s ranchers.

“The Wyoming Department of Agriculture, along with many of our counterparts across the nation work very hard to ensure that state eat inspection programs achieve status that is ‘equal to’ federal inspection,” Miyamoto said.

WSGA executive vice president Jim Magagna thanked Cheney for introducing the legislation again.

“Wyoming, until recently, had no federally inspected processing facilities, putting our livestock producers at a clear disadvantage in being unable to process their beef in-state to meet consumer demand in neighboring states and beyond,” Magagna said. “This discrimination against state-processed meat has no basis in food safety as our state inspection program is federally approved by the FSIS and must meet all of the same standards as  federal inspection.”

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Gordon Announces Steps to Boost Wyoming Energy, Tourism, Ag

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A series of steps aimed at improving Wyoming’s primary economic drivers has been proposed or endorsed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Thursday announced the actions he will take or support to improve conditions in the state’s agriculture, tourism and energy sectors.

In the area of energy production, an industry shaken by recent executive orders halting the leasing of federal land for oil and gas production, Gordon said he will pursue an “all the above” energy industry that encourages the development of new industries such carbon capture technology and rare earth production in addition to oil, gas and coal.

Along those lines, Gordon is backing proposed legislation that would grant several tax reductions to the energy sector.

“Our traditional industries will adapt and continue to provide the reliable, affordable and dispatchable power they always have, only better,” he said in a statement. “Our economic recovery will hinge on the health of these industries and their ability to adapt to changing market demands. Wyoming can continue to grow even as our mix of energy supplies evolve.”

At the same time, Gordon welcomed steps to increase the ability of the new Wyoming Energy Authority to encourage the development of non-traditional resources.

“Carbon capture and the development of carbon byproducts will be part of Wyoming’s energy future,” he said. “So too should be efforts to research extracting the rare earth elements and critical minerals associated with coal that will be needed for the batteries powering the anticipated worldwide build-out of wind and solar power.”

Gordon is also backing measures that help the state’s tourism industry, its largest employer.

He singled out House Bill 85, which would let Wyoming State Parks use money raised through entrance fees to finance a large portion of their operations and outdoor recreation rather than construction projects. The measure is expected to allow for a $1.1 million reduction in money given to the parks from the state’s general fund, its main bank account, without affecting the visitor experience.

A number of bills aimed at bolstering the state’s agriculture committee are also part of Gordon’s initiative, including one that would give the state attorney general the authority to look into antitrust matters.

The measure is a response to consolidation of 80% of the meat packing industry within four major companies. Beef producers in Wyoming have long complained the four companies have kept prices for producers artificially low.

The state now lacks the authority to investigate such charges.

Gordon is also backing HB 52, which would increase Wyoming meat products used by school districts to feed students.

The governor said he is also working with legislators to expand the state’s meat processing capacity.

“This is only a part of an ambitious initiative focused on adding value to products across the entire spectrum of agricultural enterprise,” he said. “This effort is essential to grow this key part of our economy.”

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Wyoming’s “Food Freedom Act” Featured on CBS Saturday Morning

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Wyoming’s first-in-the-nation Food Freedom Act was featured on CBS News on Saturday morning.

The legislation, championed by the late Rep. Sue Wallis and current State Rep. Tyler Lindholm, was passed in 2015 and made Wyoming the first state in the country to adopt legislation that deregulated many direct-to-consumer food sales.

In plain English, it means local food producers can take their products directly to market.

This was something CBS apparently found of particular interest in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Farmers markets have proved to be invaluable during the pandemic by offering fresh food often in open air environments. And in one state it’s becoming even easier to sell homemade locally sourced food, thanks to a law passed five years ago,” said CBS anchor Michelle Miller.

The segment featured many Campbell County residents selling their food products at a local farmer’s co-op including Jordan Madison who makes and sells his own peanut butter.

“Madison doesn’t need his jars inspected or weighed and they’re not subject to any government oversight. He just delivered it to this co-op, where customers buy it directly,” explained the CBS reporter.

Lindholm, contacted by phone on Saturday afternoon, said Wyoming’s “common-sense approach of producer to consumer sales is the envy of most states due to the COVID-19 crisis.”

“Wyoming continues to lead the nation and other states are starting to take notice,” Lindholm said. “We didn’t enact this legislation for emergencies though, we were just tired of arbitrary rules.”

“By removing government from the equation, we have opened the door for communities to thrive,” he said.

The video received attention from legislators on both sides of the aisle. 

State Sen. Tara Nethercott, a Republican from Cheyenne, posted the video on her Facebook page saying it was “exciting to see Wyoming featured on CBS.”

“The Wyoming legislature has continued to de-regulate and allow entrepreneurship to thrive. Representative Tyler Lindholm has been instrumental seeing this through! Proud to support these efforts,” she said.

State Rep. Stan Blake, a Democrat from Green River, posted the video as well.

“So proud to have been a cosponsor of the Wyoming Food Freedom Act. Started by Representative Sue Wallis continued by Representative Tyler Lindholm. This is great for Wyoming’s citizens. Buy Local,” he wrote.

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Wyoming Ranchers Protest Burger King Ad Campaign

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By Tom Milstead, Torrington Telegram. Photo: Tom Milstead, Torrington Telegram

A recent ad campaign by fast food giant Burger King proved to be the last straw for a group of Goshen County ranchers.

Burger King released the Impossible Whopper in August 2019, a controversial to some product which features a meat-free patty made mostly of soy instead of beef.

The latest ad campaign features BK’s plan to introduce lemongrass to cows’ diets to reduce methane emissions.

In it, teen pop-country singer Mason Ramsey sings about how the new BK diet reduces emissions by more than a third and ends with plain text over a shot of a carnival, stating, “Since we are a part of the problem, we are working on a solution.”

That commercial was the tipping point, said Lori Shafer, one of the event’s organizers.

Local cattle producers decided to take a stand. They did so by lining the streets and adjacent parking lot near Burger King in Torrington on Friday with all manner and makes of pick-up trucks and trailers adorned with pro-beef signs and American flags.

“Our goal is to educate the public. We all know that agriculture is struggling right now,” Shafer said. “We need to bring visibility to agriculture in a positive light, the beef industry in particular is taking some really hard hits right now. Our message is meant to be positive to provide that much needed education for the general public to know that agriculture is the mainstay of the economy in Goshen County, and has been for forever.”

The ad campaign was a national campaign, and not supported by the local Burger King franchise.

“As franchise owners, we stand with our ranchers and do not support the recent Burger King advertisement,” Tim Force, owner, said. “We are proud of our agricultural community.”

Goshen County is Wyoming’s top beef producer, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture. In 2018, Goshen County produced 115,000 head, 23,000 more than No. 2 Carbon County.

It’s the biggest game in town and it always has been. According to Hugh Hageman, who participated in the demonstration, the beef industry is the local economy’s main driver.

“When you get down to the North Platte Valley, you can start wherever, but if you just started at Whalen Dam, where the diversion dam is and diverts into the canals, and then you go from there and you head down the North Platte Valley and it widens out, and you go as far as you want to go in and everything you see on all sides. There’s a few beans, a few beets, and other than that, everything you see revolves around the beef industry,” he said. “The hay, the corn, all the feed that’s grown is, whether you have any beef cattle or not, our entire valley is totally for beef cattle. And we just feel like it’s time to start standing up for our industry.”

And for longtime producers like Linda Nichol, the fact a company like Burger King – which has made billions from beef products – would release ads that seem to target the very industry that made it is unthinkable.

“It’s like a slap in the face,” she said. “It angers me because Wyoming ranchers the ultimate conservationists. Ranchers produce more grass, more clean air, more wildlife, more water. They produce a better life. They stop the development of open spaces, which open spaces are disappearing and they’re very important.”

The ranchers weren’t alone, either. They held court in the former Shopko parking lot for around two hours, and the entire time cars and trucks blared their horns in a show of support for the industry.

“It’s very encouraging,” Morgan Cross-Shoults, one of the demonstrators, said. “It kind of counters what you see when, as a rancher and a producer, you first see the ad. All the honking and the support from us being out here captures those same feelings. It shows that people do support and people are standing with farmers and ranchers.”

Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States peaked in the mid-2000s, but have been in decline ever since.

The Center for Climate Change and Energy Solutions reported that by 2025, US emissions would be 18% below the peak in 2005. According to the C2ES, agriculture accounts for 9% of the US’s emissions, and about a quarter of that is due to methane produced by cattle, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Those numbers are small compared to transportation, which accounts for 28% of emissions, electricity, which accounts of 27% and industry, 22%.

The beef industry is shouldering too much of the blame, Hageman said.

“It’s been going on a long time, where the beef industry is being blamed for too much carbon footprint, global warming, climate change – whatever you want to call it,” he said. “Then, when these bigger corporations start going out and piling on, then when you have this pandemic just crushing the industry, as far as prices go, and you’ve got all that together and people really want to start standing up for the industry and start going out there. Basically, we’re going out there and telling the truth. We really need to get the truth out there about our product, about what we do.”

According to Cross, the attack on the beef industry is indicative of a further erosion of values.

“This shows so much of where our country has fallen to,” she said. “We see on the news every day that people are tearing down the statues of the people who made our country great, who made our country what it is. And that’s the same thing of America. They forgot who got them there, and that was the ranchers of America producing this amazing beef – and now they’re trying to sell lab-made beef. We’re forgetting the blessings that made us what we are.”

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Sugar Beet Producers Feel Strain Of Bad Weather, Costs

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Sugar beets

By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

They create the stuff of magic, equated with deliciousness. And they could make or break a family business.

Sugar beets are a mainstay crop in Wyoming. But in northern Wyoming, where the growing conditions are optimal, farmers who grow sugar beets are facing a hardship like they’ve not seen in generations.

Between a hard frost last fall that left sugar beets frozen in the ground and mounting costs for renovations in other factories in the Western Sugar cooperative, sugar beet growers in the Bighorn Basin are facing a grim financial future. 

That’s according to Kurt Dobbs, the agronomist and field representative for the Bighorn Co-op in the northern half of the Bighorn Basin.

“The farmers around this area, they grow really good beets and are very good at yield,” he pointed out. “But it’s been three years in a row that they haven’t received the money that they need to receive for their crop.”

The growers in the Bighorn Basin are part of the Western Sugar Cooperative, which has factories in Lovell, Billings, Montana, Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and Fort Morgan, Colorado. 

The Lovell producers farm over 16,000 acres of beets collectively, according to Casey Crosby, a fourth-generation sugar beet grower in Cowley. 

Crosby, who also has a masters degree in business, said the economic hit of crop losses to the local communities could exceed $14 million. 

“It’s a challenging time in agriculture in general, but right now, with the issues we’ve had with our co-op, and then the weather on top of that, it’s crippled a lot of farmers,” he said.

Those issues include bad weather in two of the last three years. In between, when the harvest should have yielded a payment, Crosby said the profit went to offset costs in other areas of the Western Sugar Cooperative.

Rodney Perry, the Denver-based CEO of Western Sugar, said that the organization is working with the USDA on a disaster relief program that may provide area farmers with some much-needed assistance. 

Perry noted the program is similar to the federal government’s WHIP assistance fund (Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus), which provides disaster payments to offset losses from hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, snowstorms and wildfire. 

Crosby said the assistance could mean the difference in whether or not many growers will be able to farm next year.

Crosby is one of the lucky ones – of the 4,000 acres that he farms with another local grower, only 700 of those acres are planted in sugar beets. But as Dobbs pointed out, there are many other farmers whose livelihoods depend on the sugar beet crop.

“The farmers have to get paid for their sugar beets and they haven’t been,” Dobbs said. “So if that continues, you will see farmers going bankrupt.”

Wyoming Beef: Big Marketing Opportunities with Farm-to-Table Movement

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Cattle outnumber people nearly two-to-one in Wyoming, but buying beef identified as locally raised can be a challenge, a Wyoming Stock Growers Association spokesperson said.

“These animals often get shipped out as calves, and they might even come back as yearlings, but they lose their identity as Wyoming beef,” said Jim Magagna, the Stock Growers Association’s executive vice president. “You may have eaten a lot of them throughout your life, but you’d never know it.”

A trickle-down affect of the farm-to-table trend is an American curiosity about where food comes from and a desire to consume locally produced vittles. This curiosity is increasing the demand for both small and large meat processors in Wyoming, Magagna said.

“I don’t know that (beef processing) was ever less common,” he said. “We’ve always had a good array of small processors throughout the state. But we’ve never really had processing on a level where we were providing volume of product.”

That could soon change.

Niche demand

Up until two years ago, Magagna said Wyoming didn’t have any beef processors inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture. 

State-inspected facilities can ship products throughout Wyoming, but not across state lines. USDA-inspected facilities can ship their products anywhere within the U.S. and internationally.

Nowadays, the state is home to two USDA-approved facilities, another is transitioning from state-inspected to USDA-inspected and two more are in the construction phase, said Ron Gullberg, the Wyoming Business Council business development director.

“In 2018, the ag marketing bill — Senate File No. 108 — looked at the data saying Wyoming beef is a dominant industry, but it’s not a value-added industry,” Gullberg said. “It’s a commodity industry. So, we’re looking at how we can work to develop strategies to bolster processing in Wyoming.”

Last summer, the Business Council initiated a beef study that could provide beef producers and processors information essential to capitalizing on Wyoming branded beef products, he said.

“We’re asking the question, ‘How big can we go to fill a niche demand for Wyoming beef?’” Gullberg said. “(The study) has  three parts: Market opportunities,  opportunities for offal or byproducts of the processing, and workforce.”

The study is slated to be completed within a few weeks, but not everyone is waiting for the results.

Homefront processing

Born and raised in northeast Wyoming, Kelsey Christiansen grew up around meat processing.

“When I was young, my dad and grandfather ran a small butcher shop,” Christiansen said. “That caught my interest, then in college, I got a job working at the meat lab at the University of Wyoming. That really pulled it all together for me.”

With 15 years of experience in meat processing, Christiansen decided to open his own USDA-inspected meat processing plant — the 307 Meat Company in Laramie.

“If we’re one of the leading cattle-producing states in the nation, then we should be able to eat our own meat,” he said. “Most all the cattle leave the state to be harvested. Hopefully, we’re making a move to change that.”

The plant is not operational yet, but Christiansen said he plans to open its doors this spring. 

“My main focus of my business plan is to be a service company and a private label company,” he explained. “Whether you have a 100 head of cattle or 15, you can bring them to us, and we’ll process them and put your labels on them exactly how you want.” 

While most ranchers send their cattle out-of-state to large-scale processors, because shipping in bulk is more economical, Christiansen said there is a growing interest in small-scale operations.

“There is a massive shortage in small meat processors to do work for the little man,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for Wyoming and the beef industry as a whole. I think you’re going to see a change in dynamic across the state with a couple more processors coming on line in the near future.”

Wyoming Ag Year in Review: Crops Hit Hard in 2019, but There Was a Silver Lining

in News/Agriculture

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Agricultural producers were hit hard by weather across Wyoming throughout 2019, but on the upside, government agencies rose to the occasion on many fronts, a Wyoming Department of Agriculture spokesperson said. 

Stacia Berry, Department of Ag deputy director, said 2019 was a challenging year for farmers and ranchers alike, but Wyoming came out on top by the end. 

Listed below, Berry highlighted major problems producers faced in 2019 and notable boons for the industry from the department’s point of view.

High: Trade momentum

In December, the U.S. House approved the United Sates-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), an update to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

“There’s a lot of positive momentum in the trade area,” Berry said. “From an agriculture perspective, USMCA is something we’re excited to see moving forward.” 

While the agreement is heavily focused on the automotive industry, Berry said it could also provide several benefits to ag producers who trade internationally.

“Mexico and Canada are two of the top three markets for ag goods exported from the U.S.,” she said.

The nation is also in the first phase of trade negotiations with China and opening additional market access in Japan.

“Those three trade deals are going to provide more opportunities for export for agriculture in general, but also more opportunities for (Wyoming) producers,” Berry said.

The Wyoming Business Council is getting ahead of the trade deals with a Wyoming beef industry study that could help producers understand how best to capitalize on foreign markets, said Ron Gullberg, the Business Council business development director.

“Even though there’s trade deals being cut, it’s not like the flood gates open, and we’re ready to ship a bunch of beef,” Gullberg said. “We’ve got to work on the supply and logistics, too.”

High: Governor’s initiatives

The ag industry received significant support from the state’s executive branch in 2019, Berry said. 

“Gov. Mark Gordon has a great focus on agriculture in land health, soil quality and his focus on invasive species,” she said. “As well, (Wyoming’s) First Lady (Jennie Gordon) released big news last year with a hunger initiative for children around the state.”

In October, Gov. Mark Gordon launched an initiative to slow the spread of invasive plant species across Wyoming.

Wyoming’s agricultural lands could experience significant impacts as a result of terrestrial invasive species, Berry said.

The initiative is slated to include both technical and policy teams.

To address food insecurity, Jennie Gordon founded the Wyoming Hunger Initiative last year. 

“As agriculture is in the food production and safety businesses, they have great initiatives that work hand-in-hand with the work that is being done,” Berry said. 

Working together, ag initiatives, non-profit organizations and Jennie Gordon’s initiative could significantly reduce the number of people in Wyoming who spend their days wondering where the next meal will come from, she added. 

High: Leadership positions

Department of Agriculture Director Doug Miyamoto was honored with high-level national appointments that could allow Wyoming to play an integral role in future policy decisions, Berry said.

“We are strategically positioned right now for Director Miyamoto to serve as the president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA),” she said. “He was just installed as the secretary-treasurer on the board, and will be the president four years from now.”

The position could grant Wyoming access and opportunities in national policymaking decisions that could affect the state. 

“To my knowledge, there has never been a president of NASDA from Wyoming,” Berry said.

During the summer of 2019, Miyamoto was also appointed president of the Western United States Agriculture Trade Association (WUSATA).

“WUSATA promotes the export of U.S. food and agriculture products throughout the world from the Western region of the country,” Berry said.

In conjunction with those leadership positions, Berry said the department has worked with the Wyoming Congressional Delegation to support farmers and ranchers in Washington D.C. 

Low: Weather 

A late spring and early winter prevented ag producers from getting seeds in the ground early enough and forced many to prematurely harvest their crops.

“In April and May, it was good and bad in that it was wet and cold,” Berry said. “Even though we were getting more moisture than we typically would, alleviating drought worries, that also put most everybody behind on spring work.”

Ag producers waited out the weather, which pushed harvest time later into fall, creating a domino effect that came to a head when the snows flew early. 

“Summer felt like it was here, and then, gone,” Berry said. 

While the weather affected crops statewide, she explained its impact was particularly felt by sugar beet producers and by crop producers in southeastern Wyoming, where increased spring precipitation was determined to be the primary factor in the  Gering/Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal collapse. 

Low: Tunnel collapse

In July, a century-old irrigation canal collapsed, leaving more than 100,000 acres of farm land in Wyoming and Nebraska without water during the hottest stretch of the year.

“(The USDA Risk Management Agency) were able to determine the cause of the collapse was weather related,” Berry said. “That was a very positive thing, because it meant ag producer’s insurance could cover their losses.”

Originally estimated to cost the economy about $90 million, the collapse affected more than 400 producers in Wyoming and Nebraska. 

A bout of late summer precipitation staved off the worst of the damages, a University of Wyoming spokesperson said in December

Tunnel repairs are slated to be complete by spring. 

Low: Sugar beet harvest

Sugar beet markets have been in flux for the last several years, resulting in the 2018 closure of a nearly century-old sugar beet plant in Goshen County, but weather was the culprit behind crop problems in 2019.

“A late spring and an early winter really hurt the sugar beet producers,” Berry said. “Your crop is never going to be as good when it’s frozen in the ground, and you’re trying to dig it out.”

A root product, freezing in the ground reduces the beet’s sugar content, and subsequently, its market price.

In December, Gordon sought to have the USDA declare Laramie, Goshen and Platte counties federal disaster areas as a result of the decline in beet harvests.

““Weather is a defining part of agriculture,” Berry said. “Wyoming is home to a lot of harsh weather, and you have to be very resilient as an agriculturist in any part of the state.”

It’s not yet clear if 2019’s weather will impact the 2020 growing season, but Berry said the department has its fingers crossed for a break in the storm.

“Even though winter showed up early, it depends on how long it decides to stay,” she said. “Weather really can dictate how any year goes for agriculture.”

Wyoming ag dwindles as gross domestic product, but continues strong as cultural commodity

in News/Agriculture

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Once the subject of high expectations, Wyoming’s agriculture industry was plagued with obstacles from the outset.

Despite erratic climate conditions and the absence of irrigation infrastructure, settlers doubled down on their efforts to till the Great Plains for more than 100 years. 

“Many people in the East thought it inevitable that farms would supersede the stockman in Wyoming, quite a few people in Wyoming thought so, too,” T.A. Larson wrote in “History of Wyoming.”

Phil Roberts, a University of Wyoming professor of history emeritus and author of the “Wyoming Almanac,” said the weather during the early years of Wyoming settlement was deceptively mild.

“One important thing to bear in mind is when Wyoming was being settled, the weather was very favorable for agriculture,” Roberts said.

The great blizzards of the 1870s, unreliable precipitation at the turn of the 20th century and a 10-year drought during the Great Depression, however, proved to be more than most of the state’s first ag producers could handle.

By the 1970s, the ag industry only accounted for about 10 percent of Wyoming’s gross domestic product, said Wenlin Liu, chief economist at the Wyoming Administration and Information Economic Analysis Division. Today, Liu said the ag industry makes up about 1 percent of Wyoming’s gross domestic product.

Howdy, partner

At a glance, Wyoming in the mid-1800s offered settlers ample resources to build a thriving agriculture economy.

“One aspect that was always involved in people’s aspirations was there was an awful lot of land in Wyoming, and awful lot of river valleys — all they had to do was figure out how to get the water to the land,” Roberts said. “One of the problems came with financing those projects. None of the farmers had much money.”

Through legislation and the efforts of the Bureau of Reclamation, water projects started appearing across the state in the early 1900s. The final piece to the puzzle was transporting the produce.

“We can’t underestimate the importance of the three big railroads — Union Pacific, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and Chicago North Western Transportation Company,” Roberts said. “They were extraordinarily fundamental for farmers getting their product to market.”

During the 1920s and ’30s, small farms and ranches began consolidating into big corporations, hurting both the banking industry and small communities. With the damage done by the end of the World War II, the ag industry might have withered away were it not for a growth of interest in Wyoming’s subterranean resources. 

“The arrival of oil and gas drilling helped a number of those remaining small, family operations,” Roberts explained.

Farmers and ranchers worked above ground while minerals companies reaped the resources below. With railroad infrastructure already installed to transport both industries’ products to market, ag and energy worked in concert toward a more robust, albeit erratic, Wyoming economy.

Whoa, boy!

The Bureau of Economic Analysis provides economic data as far back as 1969, but painting a picture of the ag market prior to that is difficult, Liu said.

In 1997, the bureau changed its methodology for collecting data on the industry, further complicating the process of direct comparison.

“I am not sure how good you could use the new methodology on the old data to compare it to today’s data,” Liu said. 

Despite the discrepancy, the data illustrates a stagnant labor market. In 1969, the bureau reported that farm employment accounted for 14,393 of the state’s total 157,954 jobs — about 9 percent. Nearly 50 years later, in 2017, the bureau recorded 14,680 jobs in farm employment, about 4 percent of the state’s 398,199 total jobs.

While technology filled many labor gaps on the farm, Stacia Berry, deputy director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, said recruiting laborers remains one of the industry’s biggest hurdles.

“One of the challenges is finding the workforce to do the work,” Berry explained. “A lot of those jobs have shifted from American workers to bringing in workers from afar.”

Recent changes to the federal H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers program created more complications for ag producers, she said. Additionally, the country’s trade situation with the world abroad is hurting the pockets of hometown Wyoming. 

“We’re still waiting for finalization of the (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), the international trade agreement with Canada and Mexico,” Berry said. “With that in flux at the same time as a trade war with China and the intense tariffs being put on agricultural commodities … that provides a lot of uncertainty, which creates some market problems.”

Wagons, ho

As an economic industry, ag might be a shadow of its former self, but it could still play a significant role in the state’s future, Berry said.

“In Wyoming’s economy, ag is foundational,” she explained. “We look at it as the third leg of an economic stool — energy, tourism and agriculture.”

Without access to the open land provided largely by ag, the energy sector could struggle to expand and as a culture and the ag community draws many of Wyoming’s visitors, she said.

Roberts said the era of dude ranches finds roots as deep as the 1960s, simultaneously decreasing the industry’s produce contribution to the state’s gross domestic product and paving an avenue for small, family-owned operations to continue their agricultural traditions.

Viewed through the lens of economic analysis, Liu said some nationwide studies indicate the ag industry’s impact on the country’s gross domestic product could be as high as 5 percent when taking into account the industries it supports such as tourism, food retail and transportation.

In Wyoming, Berry said agri-tourism, a term referring to visitors attracted by bed and breakfast resorts, corn mazes and dude ranches, is growing by leaps and bounds.

“As far as the culture of ag, ag is special, and it’s special to the people of Wyoming,” Berry said. “There’s something very romantic about the Western cowboy and I think we see that when we have talks with trading partners across the globe. People love the wide open spaces here, which is really due in part to the ag community.”

Irrigation canal repairs nearly complete, Goshen County to turn water back on

in News/Agriculture/Business
Look back at how this water crisis began and see a view of the situation on the ground in Torrington with this report from Cowboy State Daily’s Robert Geha and Mike McCrimmon when the tunnel first collapsed.

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Tunnel crews cleared the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal tunnel Monday, and water could start flowing to crops as early as later this week, Goshen County Irrigation District Manager Rob Posten said.

Full capacity irrigation, however, won’t be restored immediately, he added.

“We’ll go a little at a time until we get there,” Posten said. “It might take another week — it usually takes 7 to 10 days to bring the water into where we want it.”

Irrigation water was cut off to more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Goshen County and Nebraska on July 17 after the Gering-Fort Laramie Canal tunnel collapsed about a mile south of Fort Laramie.

Torrington Mayor Randy Adams said Posten’s announcement was well received around the community.

“Apparently there is no sidewall damage, which would have prohibited running water through it this year,” Adams said. “People in the community who’ve driven around the canal area have said the crops are looking better than expected.”

Prior to the U.S. Department of Agriculture stating Friday that crop losses caused by the canal collapse would be insured, the mayor said the incident could cost the community as much as $250 million during the next few years. Adams said he wasn’t sure how the USDA announcement would affect prior economic predictions, one of which predicted a total loss to crops that could cost Wyoming and Nebraska about $90 million.  

“The USDA is going to have to wait until those farmers harvest and turn in the crop, so they know how much they’ll pay out,” he explained. “I haven’t been a farmer for over 20 years, but crop insurance is basically a means for you to get back on your feet and plant the next crop. It’s better than getting nothing.”

Crop loss

Turning the irrigation back on could reduce overall crop loss, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln researcher said. Xin Qiao, an irrigation management specialist at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center, produced a report in July detailing the potential crop losses in the area served by the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal. The report predicted 100 percent loss of corn, more than 90 percent loss of dry edible beans and a 50 percent to 60 percent loss of sugar beets if the tunnel was not repaired by Aug. 13.

“I don’t think that number is accurate anymore,” Qiao said. “Any rain they got (since) could reduce the overall impact. It’s the total amount of rainfall that matters and the timing. I don’t have a concrete analysis at this point.”

At his research facility in Nebraska, Qiao said his team turned off irrigation to their own sugar beat plots after the canal collapsed to study the potential effects on the crop. Unfortunately, he said a recent hail storm killed the plots before he could observe the lasting effect on the plants of removing irrigation.

“I definitely think they won’t have that much loss from the original prediction,” he said. “My (new) prediction is it will be less, but I don’t think the numbers will be that far over.”

Legislative support

Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Torrington, said the tunnel reopening was great news for everyone involved.

“It’s a testament to the work of the problem solvers on the ground and both of the irrigation boards,” Steinmetz said. “(Locals are) overjoyed to have water flowing back through the canal.”

On the policy side, she said legislators are looking into potential ways for the state to help Goshen County ag producers and Wyoming residents affected by similar disasters in the future.

“The Select Water Committee will be taking up this project through the omnibus water bill,” Steinmetz said. “We’ll be advancing that to a construction phase in the 2020 (Legislative) Session.” 

The omnibus water bill allows legislators to approve and transfer funds from state accounts into priority water projects around Wyoming.“We’re also looking into an emergency account when issues like this arise similar to the fire suppression account,” Steinmetz added.

The emergency fire suppression account bill was adopted by the Legislature this year. It allows unspent, unobligated general fund monies appropriated to the Division of Forestry to revert to a revolving account for emergency fire suppression.

Questions of responsibility

Despite an outpouring of support from Wyoming agencies in response to the tunnel collapse, Steinmetz said there is still a question of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s responsibility in the collapse.

Bureau spokesperson Jay Dallman said the agency constructed the tunnel in 1917 as part of the North Platte Project, then signed over the responsibility for maintenance and use to Goshen Irrigation and Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation districts.

“The agency response (to questions of responsibility) is under that 1926 agreement, the (irrigation) districts are responsible for operation and maintenance,” Dallman said. “However, we’re certainly supportive or our districts, and we’re trying to work with them to figure out solutions to the problem.”

The bureau authorized up to $4 million in loans for temporary repairs to the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal tunnel, he said. While Dallman did not have the exact amount requested by the districts on hand, he said it was about $2 million.

Posten did not have an estimate on the tunnel’s cost of repairs.

Dallman said the loan was on a 50-year term at about 3 percent interest, and the districts would only be responsible for paying back 65 percent of the loan value.

About 100 years ago, the bureau also built the Interstate Canal System, which leads out from Whalen Diversion Dam and serves farmland in Wyoming and Nebraska.

“One could easily conclude this has been an eye opener for all of us,” Dallman said. “We will probably be not only continuing inspections with the (irrigation) districts, but also looking for ways to improve on the technology used in those inspections.”

Construction crews race the clock to fix canal

in Economic development/News/Community/Agriculture

Farmers and ranchers in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska are facing nature’s deadline as construction crews work to repair an irrigation breach that left 800 irrigators without water.

Construction crews are working full-time to repair the breach in the Fort Laramie-Gering irrigation canal that provides water for 100,000 acres of land on both sides of the Wyoming-Nebraska border.

Water to the canal has been turned off since the collapse occurred on July 17 and the late summer heat makes it crucial for water to be delivered to fields served the 130-mile canal as quickly as possible to avoid crop losses.

Rob Posten, district manager of the Goshen Irrigation District, said the district hopes to have the canal repaired by late August.

If the repairs take much longer, farmers and ranchers could be looking at significant crop losses, which Shawn Madden of Torrington Livestock said would affect the economy throughout the area.

“It’s not just if you’re farming south of Torrington or down by Gering, Nebraska,” he said. “Those people are all customers on Main Street in Scottsbluff (Nebraska), Torrington. I mean, these people are in financial peril.”

Cactus Covello of Points West Bank said most agricultural operations run on a slim profit margin to begin with.

“There’s not much profit in the corn, there’s not a lot of profit in cattle,” he said. “Most of that goes back to pay for their input costs, to make land payments, to put a little food on the table and hopefully have some to put in savings for a rainy day. The agricultural life is a lifestyle you’ve got to love, because it’s not ultra-profitable.”

Questions remain over whether the crop losses will be covered by insurance. If the tunnel failure was the result of natural causes such as rain, officials believe the losses will be covered. If the collapse was the result of structural failure, the coverage will not apply. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to determine what caused the collapse of the 102-year-old tunnel.

Covello said he expects members of the community to work together to overcome the problems.

“These banks around here, we serve the agricultural community,” he said. “We will change and do things that we need to do so we can all survive together.”

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Irrigation tunnel collapse could cost Wyoming’s ag millions, repairs underway

in News/Agriculture
Tunnel collapse Torrington

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

More than 100,000 acres of agricultural land are without irrigation after a canal tunnel collapsed July 17 in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

“The tunnel collapse shut the water off in one of our canals,” Goshen Irrigation District Manager Rob Posten said. “Right now, about 400 landowners are affected just in Goshen County.”

Approximately 52,000 acres of the affected area are in Goshen County and the rest is across the state line in Nebraska, Posten said.

John Ellis, a Goshen County commissioner, said if unchecked, the collapse could have a disastrous impact on the entire county.

“I’ve never seen a disaster close to this scale,” Ellis said. “Agriculture is Goshen County. There’s very little other businesses, and they all rely on agriculture.”

On Monday, Gov. Mark Gordon signed an emergency declaration to allow the use of state resources to help fix the collapse.

“This is a serious emergency, and we recognize addressing an issue of this magnitude will take coordination, especially because it affects so many Wyoming and Nebraska farmers,” Gordon said in a news release. “We are working with an understanding of the urgency of the situation, along with a need to proceed carefully. Wyoming is united in its effort to find the right way to help the Goshen Irrigation District get up and running.”

Created in 1926, the irrigation district was formed to contract with the federal government for water from the North Platte River. The district pays the U.S. a proportionate share of the estimated cost to operate and maintain the facilities that store the water for use, including the Pathfinder Dam and Reservoir and Guernsey Dam and Reservoir, according to the district’s website.

“We supply water to the farmers,” Posten said. “We only have two canal tunnels, and they’ve both been there 100 years. The one that collapsed was built in 1917.”

He said the collapse was not maintenance related.

The district has not yet received state resources to repair the collapse and Posten said it’s still too early to speculate what those resources might be.The repairs, however, are already underway.

“We have people that know how to fix this working on it as we speak — professionals from St. Louis, Missouri,” he said. “I don’t know the full scope of the work needed, but they will likely pump grout in around the tunnel, fill in the voids and install steel ribs to shore it up, and then try to run water through it.”

If the water is not turned back on soon, Ellis said the cost could be through the roof. Although he was not aware of an official estimate of potential damages, Ellis said he’s heard guesses between $90 million and $250 million.

From a policy making standpoint, he said the collapse would likely affect the county’s future, but determining how is a waiting game.

“We don’t know the total impact,” Ellis said. “Until we know the financial impact, it’s hard to tell what we may have to do.”

Whatever the case, Ellis said he’s proud of the way the irrigation district is handling the situation.

“The Goshen Irrigation District have done such an excellent job,” Ellis said. “They’ve left no stone unturned. They’ve done everything possible to get this thing working again.”

Retiring An Old Dog

in Cat Urbigkit/Column/Range Writing/Agriculture
Guardian sheep dog

By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily

We’ve spent the past four years trying to convince an old range dog to retire. Old Mama is a fine old livestock guardian dog that has traveled many, many miles with her flocks. She’s not much to look at, and her face and body carry many scars of battle, proof of her unwillingness to back down from a fight with any predator.

Born on the range to working guardians, she’s lived all her 13+ years of life there, migrating with the flocks from the sagebrush-covered low country in winter, to the high country of the Wind River Mountains as the flocks move for summer grazing. Her hard pawpads carried her over more than 200 miles of trail each year, moving slowly with the seasons.

As she aged, we gradually placed Old Mama with flocks following shorter trails, and finally stopped allowing her to trail to winter range four years ago. She’s adapted beautifully to every change; so long as she’s with sheep, she’s content.

One dark night in the fall of 2017, a pack of wolves attacked our sheep flock on its bedground, and Old Mama was one of three livestock guardian dogs injured in the brawl. With the help of a dedicated local veterinarian, Old Mama recovered from severe wounds, but the attack and her advancing age led to the decision to end her free-ranging days out with the main sheep flock. Old Mama had always enjoyed leading her flock out to graze for the day, sticking her tail straight into the air and stepping daintily as the sheep followed along. But those days were over.

By this point, Old Mama was still in great physical condition, but her teeth were so worn with age so she could no longer defend herself. The other guardian dogs would surely come to the defense of their comrade, but with wolves coming in so close to the sheep night pen, and confrontations escalating, I didn’t want to risk losing such a magnificent creature as Old Mama to wolves.

It was a tough decision to slip a leash over her neck and hold her back that cold morning, standing with the old dog as she watched her flock go forward without her. I turned her head and directed her into a large pen of lambs we’d kept from that spring, and Old Mama seemed happy enough to be with these youngsters.

There are always at least a few sheep around the ranch headquarters, and in the wintertime we feed hay nearby, so Old Mama always has access to the thing she loves most – her sheep. Last winter, Old Mama stayed close to the house, sometimes seeking shelter in the barn, but more often than not sleeping in the haystack next to the flock’s night pen.

Old Mama is going deaf, she can’t see well, and now she’s a little wobbly on her feet. It’s lambing season again, and I’ve got a small pen of orphan lambs for her to keep company.

One afternoon last week, I looked out to see a livestock guardian dog leaving the headquarters, headed into our lambing pasture. The dogs guarding the lambing flock burst into action, barking and racing to face the intruder, but then breaking into excited body wiggles when they saw the grand old girl was once again joining the flock. Everyone in our family cheered for the old dog and her determination.

Old Mama’s body may be weakening, but she still has a booming bark that broadcasts warnings to tell predators to stay away. She parked herself in the middle of the flock, staying close to a ewe that gave birth later that night. The other guardian dogs kept a respectful distance, knowing that this elderly guardian belongs wherever she wants. She’s earned this range.

Once the ewe moved off with her newborn lambs the next morning, Old Mama began her slow journey back to headquarters, where her new crop of orphan lambs was waiting. She spent the night with these wee ones, then set out again in her slow lumber for the lambing flock.

This noble old dog has earned the right to make her own decisions. We’ll try to minimize her risk of injury, but in the end, she’ll decide how she wants to leave this life. At the very least, we owe her that.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

More than 1,500 students in Cheyenne for “Agriculture in the Classroom” event

in News/wildlife/Education/Agriculture

More than 1,500 grade school students from around Wyoming gathered in Cheyenne on Friday to learn more about the state’s agriculture industry.

The students were in Cheyenne for the Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom program’s 25th annual “Bookmark and Beyond” celebration, where student showed off their designs for agriculture-themed bookmarks and learned about different aspects of the industry.

Among the activities for students was a hands-on session with a mapping system that allows users to locate a pasture and count and track the cows in it.

Ala Telck, president of Sheridan’s AgTerra Technologies, said his company donated the money for the software used at the celebration because of the growing importance of technology in agriculture.

“Technology is not going to go away, it’s only going to become more important,” he said. “We want to help our youth embrace and become very good at this technology.”

Many of the students attending the event live on farms and ranches in Wyoming and Doug Miyamoto, the director of the state Department of Agriculture, said such a background instills those children with a sense of responsibility.

“Those kids start working at a very early age and there’s a lot expected and demanded of them and I think they understand that,” he said. “A lot of the kids that come from agricultural backgrounds know what their expectations are and they perform to that level.”

Matt Micheli, an Agriculture in the Classroom board member who grew up on a ranch near Fort Bridger, agreed.

“I think it creates a real work ethic, but also an understanding of responsibility, that when something’s entrusted to you, that you have to follow through,” he said.

The winning bookmark design unveiled during the event came from Dawson George of Cody, whose illustration showed cows, pheasants and oil wells.

King Ranch’s Eisele ‘proud and lucky’ to be involved in calving season

in News/Agriculture

By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Mark Eisele smiled as he watched the calves gather close to their mothers.

Although the newborns in the open pen were just one or two days old, they already had formed a bond with their mothers and their mothers with them.  Some contented calves nursed, others napped and a few explored the pen on wobbly, unsteady legs. Their mothers kept their eyes on them, nudged them lovingly or licked their offspring’s shiny coats.

“They recognize their babies by sound and smell,” he said. “They can pick them out of a herd with a cry.”

It’s calving season at King Ranch, Eisele’s family-owned cattle operation five miles west of Cheyenne. The annual season of birth that unfolds here is happening or soon will occur at ranches across Wyoming. 

“I’m proud and lucky I get to do this,” Eisele, 62, said of his lifelong career.

He helped out at his first calving when he was 14 and has been integrally involved for more than 40 years. And yet, he never tires of it. 

“The miracle of life and how that has developed through nature is a spectacle that people should witness and appreciate,” he said. “The frailty of life is so in your face. It is very powerful. When that calf shakes his head and looks up at you and he’s breathing, it’s a wonderful feeling. Every one of them is special to me.”

Eisele and his family own the historic ranch, which was started in 1904 as a sheep operation and became a cattle ranch in 1968. Eisele’s immediate family includes his wife Trudy, daughters Kendall Roberts (who basically is second in command) and Kaycee Eisele; son, Colton Eisele; Kendall’s husband James and Colton’s wife Miranda. All help out with the calving duties.

The calving season at King Ranch starts around Feb. 20 and lasts for 75 days. It is the most intense time for ranchers who must keep in close and constant watch on their cows and calves. There are many sleepless nights for ranchers with 2 a.m. checks and around-the-clock monitoring.

“I literally live at the barn for two months,” he said, adding the barn is about 400 yards from the main house. “I have a trailer down there and eat and sleep down there. You get tired; you get a little worn out. But when you have a calf hit the ground and he’s alive and you saved him, you get the support to hit the ground running and go save another one.” 

When calving season rolls around, everything else in a rancher’s life – from birthday parties to family commitments – are put on hold. 

“The calves come first. And everybody understands that,” he said.

Eisele and his immediate family raise about 400 black Angus and red Angus cows on the main ranch and another 600 to 800 yearlings and pasture cattle at the west ranch. His parents raise 150 cows on their ranch nearby.

So far, about 350 calves have been born this season at the ranch with about 50 cows still to give birth.

“Things are winding down,” Eisele said.

Across Wyoming, up to 900,000 calves will be born during the calving season at the state’s 2,500 to 3,000 commercial cow operations, according to Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

At King Ranch, most calves are born in the barn where they are tagged and numbered and get a shot to protect them. They spend at least 12 hours bonding with their mothers in the pen. Cow and calf then move to an open pen, which has a wood side for protection from the elements, fresh hay and an automatic heated water supply.  After a few days, they move to the main pasture.  The calves in the pasture are full of energy and jump across the land. Eisele keeps a small notebook in his shirt pocket that contains hand-written records of all the calves. 

“As the calves are born, we write down the cow’s number, the calf’s number, the date, the sex, the weight, how easy the birth was and if they nursed,” he said.

They then transfer the information to their cell phones and create electronic records.

A circle drawn beside the number of a calf in the book means the calf died. Typically, calves are born without problems, but about 2 percent to 3 percent die despite the best efforts of Eisele and his family.

“We will struggle to keep everything alive,” he said, adding that “it’s heartbreaking for me” when a calf dies.

Some calves die after being accidentally stepped on by other cows. The animals also can contract pneumonia. 

“Cattle are really an interesting critter. They are tougher than all get out,” Eisele said. “They can survive so many things. But a simple thing like the change between day and night and the temperature swings will trigger pneumonia – respiratory distress – and it will kill them.”

Cows also are quite social. For example, they frequently take turns babysitting several calves so their mothers can graze, he said.

Ranchers wear many hats and the job of calving means they need to wear almost every one at the same time. They need to be medics, business men, weather men, and bit of a psychologist to better read and understand the cows, he said.

Eisele and his family help in the birthing process, including pulling a calf’s legs to get it through the birth canal. He tries to be at every birth he can, but can’t make all of them. 

“I need to see if the cow had problems or if the calf was sluggish,” he said.

He said he also needs to know if the cow can give birth or if the calf is so large that a veterinarian is needed to perform a Caesarean section.

“There is a lot of animal husbandry that goes on. We use stethoscopes, thermometers and we do a lot of stuff to analyze these calves,” he said.

The knowledge doesn’t happen overnight. 

“It’s an acquired education,” he said, one where he said he is still learning every day.

Eisele is at ease with his herd and loves to watch the cows go after the cow cakes made from grains that he dumps from back of his truck.

He recognizes cows in the pasture and pets many as he chats with them. He too, has formed a bond.

“One of the saddest things I have to do is put calves on a truck and ship them away to the feeders knowing that is the last I’ll see of them. That is hard to do. I understand that is the way things work, but I revel in the births,” he said.

In Brief: House approves bill to allow the growing of hemp

in News/Agriculture

By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming farmers would be able to begin growing hemp under a measure that won final approval from the House on Tuesday.

Wyoming’s representatives voted unanimously in favor of HB 171,  which would make hemp a legal crop and provide for the regulation of growers.

Hemp is a relative to marijuana, but lacks the chemicals found in marijuana that intoxicate users. However, it has many commercial applications, including use in the textile industry and as a dietary supplement.

Because of its similarities to marijuana, the growing of hemp has been restricted for years, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently defined it as a legal crop.

Under HB 171, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture would be responsible for licensing hemp growers or processors. No one with a felony controlled substance conviction on their record could obtain a license.

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